Madam Speaker, I want to begin by drawing members' attention to an important event that is happening tomorrow.
Last week at the opening cocktail reception for the Abitibi-Témiscamingue international film festival, Steve Jolin, known as Anodajay to rap fans, was awarded the National Assembly medal for all of the work that he does to protect cultural vitality. Sandy Boutin from the Emerging Music Festival and Madeleine Perron from the Abitibi-Témiscamingue cultural council also received awards.
Why am I talking about this? The reason is that, following his first album Premier VII, featuring the hit song J'te l'ai jamais dit, Anodajay, an artist from a remote region who raps in French, put out a second album called Septentrion, containing a cover of the classic song La Bittt à Tibi. His version is called Le Beat à Ti-Bi. Tomorrow, November 10, his record label, Disques 7ième Ciel, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary at none other than the Bell Centre. This record label, which was established 20 years ago, promotes rap and is likely the definitive source for French rap music in North America, with artists such as Koriass, Samian, Manu Militari, Alaclair Ensemble, Souldia, and many others, including Fouki and Zach Zoya, who is originally from Rouyn-Noranda.
I should mention that Rouyn-Noranda will be at the Bell Centre tomorrow to celebrate the record company’s 20 years, and I also wanted to acknowledge the talent and fearlessness of Steve Jolin. This will be a great day for Quebec rap.
Today, I rise to speak to Bill C-34 and its critical importance for us Quebeckers. This bill amends the Investment Canada Act. The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C‑34, which strengthens the federal government's powers regarding oversight of investments that could compromise Canada's national security. More specifically, Bill C‑34 reinforces the minister's authority, giving him the power to impose conditions during national security reviews and to accept undertakings to mitigate national security risks.
These essential amendments are a logical evolution in an increasingly interconnected world where foreign investments play a vital role in the economic development of both Quebec and Canada. Consider the minerals needed to produce technological goods and electrify transportation. All mineral production becomes essential, even strategic, and therefore becomes a national security concern. Consider life sciences or quantum technology businesses or artificial intelligence start-ups. In these sectors, any investment by a foreign government or a foreign firm, from a country such as China, would automatically be subject to an initial review to prepare for an in-depth study. It would be subject to a national security review and systematically rejected unless the investor can convincingly demonstrate its real benefits, meaning its net benefit for Canada. This is an important point.
Bill C‑34 and the new critical mineral policy should put an end to the acquisition of resources by foreign-controlled firms that renders our industry completely dependent. This is something I vigorously defended at the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology. These are good mechanisms for Quebec and Canada. They protect our supply chains, our businesses and our sovereignty from ill-intentioned foreign investments. Each new review process essentially copies what is done in the United States, creating the harmonization that our businesses have also been calling for. By passing Bill C‑34, we are increasing the chances that the U.S. will continue to see us as a trusted partner, which is a condition for being a preferred supplier and, most importantly, for being integrated into their supply chains.
The U.S. has agreed to include Canada in its critical minerals supply chain, and, importantly, it has backed off on the most protectionist measures in the Inflation Reduction Act, the IRA, since Bill C‑34 now meets the requirements, the main one being to align our security policies with those of the United States. This is an essential prerequisite for including Canada in its industrial modernization strategy, in particular the development of the electrification industry. I have participated in not one, but two ministerial missions on these topics in Washington. I went there two years ago with the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development and last year with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, who was accompanied at the time by the Minister of National Defence. That shows how current these policy issues are and how vital they are for maintaining our competitive edge.
I do thank the government for its openness in committee. The government agreed to clarify the fact that purchasing a company's assets is the same as purchasing the company itself. If a company owns a mine and resources, and we purchase that company, we also get the mine and resources. This is very important, because it means that the transaction is subject to the act. This clarification was necessary, particularly in the case of intangible assets, such as intellectual property patents, where there was a gap in the previous version of the act. It is crucial that our laws protect our national interests, including intellectual property.
There may also be a flaw in the government's overall approach when it comes to protecting intellectual property. Does it go far enough? During our study of Bill C‑34 in committee, several witnesses pointed out that the government could be doing more in that regard.
We took a more nuanced position on certain amendments. I supported the idea of considering intellectual property when reviewing transactions because it strengthens our national security and protects our strategic assets.
I want to take this opportunity to mention that other ideas emerged during the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology's work. I will start with a fundamental value: transparency. One of the most important changes that the Bloc Québécois and I argued vigorously in favour of had to do with transparency provisions. That was a major issue the witnesses raised and one that came up in the technical documents that were submitted.
I insisted on the need for greater transparency around national security in the decision-making mechanisms. That calls for more information from agencies responsible for decisions related to national security. That is a legitimate request that comes largely from the professionals who support the parties involved in this type of transaction, as well as from anyone who wants to understand how the decisions are made and which criteria are taken into account.
The minister's obligation to make their decisions public represents significant progress. This will improve the public's understanding and enable individuals, businesses and all stakeholders to better understand the process and the reasons for national security-related decisions.
We got a commitment from the minister to disclose certain types of information and require parties to a transaction to disclose the names of individuals benefiting from the new company resulting from the acquisition of or merger with the Quebec or Canadian company. We are firmly committed to acting in the best interest of the Quebec nation and to ensuring that the preservation of our national interests is in harmony with our democratic values and our pursuit of open and transparent governance.
Consider, for example, the acquisition of Rona by Lowe's. Rona was one of Quebec's success stories. It was acquired by Lowe's, but we will never know the conditions set by the federal minister. Nearly a decade later, we need to consider the consequences of that. Was it because of local procurement obligations, the need to maintain a head office in Montreal or the need to keep a certain number of employees in Quebec, both at the head office and in the companies? Were those aspects respected? We will probably never know, because the conditions were never made public. If they had been, the public would have been better informed and it would have been easier to hold the company to account regarding whether or not Quebec's interests were respected. Let me remind the House that we lost a head office at that time, and that must never happen again. Greater transparency is therefore an important gain.
Now let us talk about thresholds. The Bloc Québécois urges the government to go much further and to improve overall oversight of foreign investment, with a view to preserving our head offices, our economic leverage and our control over our resources, which Bill C-34 does not do.
I would therefore ask the House to consider a new bill providing for a more complete reform of the Investment Canada Act in this regard. We tried to do it in committee because no one had thought of it when Bill C‑34 was created. Unfortunately for us, the government restricted possible amendments to the sole issue of foreign investment as it relates to national security, which is important, yes, but limited. If we could have improved one thing, that would have been a good pick. However, we were unable to go as far as adding a new provision. While this is very unfortunate, I have high hopes that a new bill could be introduced.
I think there was even some degree of consensus around the table that the government missed an opportunity to review the thresholds to which mergers and acquisitions must be subject, particularly when it comes to guaranteeing that foreign investments will have a net benefit for Canada. That is an essential condition for everyone who is interested in foreign investment.
We support Bill C‑34, but we will continue to demand loud and clear that the government introduce a new bill to examine and review the other provisions of the Investment Canada Act.
The federal government's blind spot is its failure to protect our economic levers, a critical element that is often overshadowed by more immediate concerns. The data set out in the annual report from the department's investment division, which was tabled in Parliament in October, present an alarming reality that is getting worse as the years go by.
Of the 1,255 foreign investment projects totalling $87 billion that were submitted last year, only 24 of them would have been considered to have national security implications had this bill been in effect at the time. Everything we are talking about right now would have an impact on only about 2% of projects. That is far from nothing, but it is not enough either.
The rest, or 1,221 investments, remain subject to the old lax rules with less than 1% of them being subject to a thorough review to assess their true net economic benefit.
Each year, more than 97% of investments are not subject to a review. We have a right to question the oversight capacity for transactions.
This gap in the protection of our economic levers stems from the growing fragility of the Canada Investment Act, with an increasingly high review threshold, allowing the vast majority of foreign investments to avoid any substantial assessment of their impact on our economy. It is imperative that the government deal with this blind spot by strengthening the controls and reaffirming its commitment to preserving our economic sovereignty for the long term.
Over the years, the Canada Investment Act has been watered down. The threshold for a government review of an investment keeps going up. Almost all of the investments slip through and the government does not even have the power under the Canada Investment Act to assess whether each investment is beneficial.
The current act, introduced in the mid-1980s, assumes that full liberalization of investment is a good thing, that just about any foreign investment, whatever it may be, is beneficial, resulting in the loss of decision-making levers and head offices—weakening Montreal's financial sector in the process—the total dependence of our businesses on foreign suppliers, possible land grabs and the loss of control over our natural resources. Doing nothing is disastrous.
By focusing solely on national security, Bill C‑34 does not address Quebeckers' and Canadians' gradual loss of control over their own economy. In an economy that is in transition, that is no longer something we can afford, not that we could ever afford it.
COVID-19 has also caused us to reflect on many aspects of impacts, including the devaluation of certain head office assets and dependence on supply chains. If we are not producing vaccines, for example, we are dependent on foreign vaccine portfolios. This cost us billions of dollars. I am eager to have this information. If we had domestic companies that could have been protected, maybe we would still have assets, and it would have cost much less to secure the health of our population.
To that end, we invite the government to table another bill to modernize the entire Investment Canada Act, not only the part on national security. National security is important, but so is economic security. In particular, the government should significantly lower the threshold beyond which it authorizes foreign investments without a review.
Bill C‑34, which focuses mainly on national security, also raises legitimate concerns for many Quebeckers and Canadians. Although protecting national security is a crucial part of the legislation, it should not overshadow the gradual loss of control over our economy.
As a citizen concerned for our economic future, I call on the government to go beyond a simple review of the Investment Canada Act's national security provisions and to adopt a more holistic approach to modernizing the entire act. National security is undeniably a major concern for any government. However, it is just as important to consider economic security. The economic well-being of the provinces is closely linked to our ability to protect and promote our local industries.
The federal government must pave the way for greater recognition of innovation zones and the efforts made by stakeholders in these vital zones.
For example, Abitibi—Témiscamingue is rich in minerals that are critical to the new economy. We have expertise in this area, and this could put Quebec on the map internationally. Once again, I invite and even encourage the minister and those advising him to recognize our uniqueness and the leaders of my community by working with us to increase economic activity in and around the mines. I also urge them to protect the efforts being made to develop these companies, which are so sought after by foreigners.
The government must act decisively and lower this threshold considerably in order to effectively protect our economic interests.
The Bloc Québécois has raised this concern numerous times, and we have conveyed it to the minister and his officials every time the Investment Canada Act came up for discussion. I have personally done so.
The current threshold is too high. This means that many potentially sensitive transactions are not being reviewed by the relevant authorities. Lowering the threshold for foreign investment will enable the government to better control transactions that could have a negative impact on our economy. That does not necessarily mean that all foreign investments should be blocked, but rather that we must be able to carefully evaluate each case and impose conditions, if necessary, to ensure that these investments truly benefit Quebec or the rest of Canada.
By modernizing the entire Investment Canada Act, the government can also put in place mechanisms to encourage investment in key sectors of our economy. Tax incentives, targeted subsidies and other incentives can be used to attract domestic and foreign investment in areas such as technology, R and D, manufacturing and many other vital sectors. The aeronautical field also comes to mind.
In addition, modernizing the act can help ensure that foreign investment does not compromise our economic sovereignty by allowing foreign players to take control of our strategic companies. Appropriate control mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that Canadian companies remain under Canadian control and Quebec companies remain under Quebec's control. This is necessary to protect our interests.
It is important to note that the modernization of the Investment Canada Act should not be seen as an isolationist measure, quite the contrary. We recognize the value of international trade and foreign investment in our economy. However, we have a duty to protect our long-term economic interests. In that sense, ownership of our resources is a fundamental issue.
The government is responsible for striking a balance between national security and economic security. By modernizing the Investment Canada Act in a way that takes both of these aspects into consideration, we can guarantee that our economy will remain, strong, competitive and sovereign.
I want to dig into the pandemic example a little more because there is something interesting there. Some companies, like Air Transat, lost value. Air Canada was in a similar situation. The Standing Committee on Industry and Technology did a study on the Investment Canada Act and its potential repercussions.
I believe that Bill C‑34 is essentially the product of the recommendations that came out of the work we did in committee at the height of the COVID‑19 pandemic. One of my concerns back then was potential loss of value due to a major economic factor such as COVID‑19. Given the current inflationary context, we may still be heading for a recession. Interest rates have gone up a lot. We know that the situation with the Canada emergency business account is key to the survival of our SMEs. About 80% of them have not yet started repaying their loans. Many businesses are in danger.
Had we been able to lower the thresholds and provide better protection for these businesses, maybe we could have saved these strategic assets. Based on the overall current context, we believe that lowering the thresholds is still appropriate. Economic growth can never be taken for granted.
Lastly, by focusing mainly on national security, Bill C‑34 fails to adequately address the fact that Quebeckers and Canadians are gradually losing control over their own economy. It is imperative that the government table another bill to modernize the entire Investment Canada Act by significantly lowering the foreign investment thresholds, introducing incentives to stimulate domestic and foreign investments in strategic sectors, and protecting our economic sovereignty.
As I have said before, national security is important, but so is economic security. Our future depends on it.